We asked our very own legend of the industry, Craig Leech - Technical Specialist NSW, where he started and what he has seen change over the last 35 years in the welding safety equipment industry.
Where I started in the Welding Industry
In 1982, I started as an apprentice welder on the South African railways back when steam was still around doing a wide variety of welding, cutting, gouging and brazing. Wait for it, riveting as well.
Looking back on all these processes, conditions were bad. One of the first tasks as an apprentice was cutting up the old locomotives & railway lines. As we now know with steam, these pipes were wrapped in asbestos cloth. Protection those days comprised of fast reflexes, a set of spats, gloves 3 times your hand size that were stiff as cardboard & the high tech oxy goggles. No welding was done in the first 3 months of your apprenticeship because they didn’t want to spoil you with a fibreglass brick welding helmet as well.
Years passed on the tools until I was given the opportunity to come to Australia in the late nineties & this is when I experienced a large step-change in technology. My first employer issued me with an Auto Darkening Welding Helmet branded Speedglas with a disposable welding respirator. Little did I know I would be selling this product for the next 20 years.
A Step-Change in Welding Technology
After 12 years in the trade it was time for a change and given my welding background I started as a Gas & Gear manager. This was where I began to understand how fast the industry was changing. MIG machines that were a third of the weight with multi-process & welding programs. TIG machines that used to be the size of a minibar could now be slung over your shoulder. Plasma cutting machines for the trade & home handyman. Electronic welding helmets that used to switch at 1.2ms with small viewing areas were now available in slim, lightweight designs with huge viewing areas and lightening switching speeds of 0.1ms, available with Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) for respiratory protection.
Australian Welding Supplies and The Speedglas Brand
In 1996 I was offered a job with Australian Welding Supplies representing the Speedglas brand and over the last 20 plus years have seen so much change in the product as well as on the workshop floor. The welding industry has had a tough time recently in NSW but has turned the corner in last couple of years thanks to the latest infrastructure changes around Sydney. As for mining, the industry has made a big move in the protection of their welding & boilermaker workforce. With increased awareness and better education of welding dangers, companies and welders have an improved understanding of how to look after the health of the welding workforce. Thinking back to my days working on the railways, I’m glad welders these days will be better protected and I’m proud that I play a part in creating that awareness each and every day.
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